Release of Alice Springs Report Delayed Until Governments Can Consider the Findings

By Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark
Victoria Kelly-Clark is an Australian based reporter who focuses on national politics and the geopolitical environment in the Asia-pacific region, the Middle East and Central Asia.
February 2, 2023Updated: February 2, 2023

The release of a snap report by the Central Australian Regional Controller Dorelle Anderson into alcohol restrictions in Central Australia has been postponed until both governments have had time to consider its findings.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced the delay on Thursday afternoon via a social media thread on Twitter, in which he explained that he had met with Northern Territory Chief Minister Natasha Fyles after receiving the report and that it would be released after both cabinets were able to consider its findings.

“I met with @NatashaFylesMLA this afternoon after having received the report from the Office of the Central Australian Regional Controller. The report will be considered by respective cabinets next week,” Albanese said.

“Our governments will listen and respond with the action local communities want us to take.”

The announcement comes after the Northern Territory and the federal government last week appointed Anderson as the Central Australian Regional Controller, who will be responsible for developing an Alcohol Management Plan after a spike in youth crime and anti-social behaviour in Alice Springs made national headlines.

Businesses and members of the community, including town camps, were set to have input into the plan and how they want alcohol managed in their community.

The Territory government also wanted Anderson to look towards creating additional measures around liquor licensing, including the possibility of an opt-out system.

Effect of Current Restrictions Unknown

The report comes after the NT government backflipped on liquor restrictions, announcing a raft of new controls on alcohol sales in Alice Springs as a temporary measure to help police deal with a youth crime wave in the region.

At present, sales of takeaway alcohol are now banned on Monday and Tuesday and hours of alcohol serving are reduced on the remaining days of the week from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. The government also introduced a ban on multiple alcohol transactions, with Alice Springs residents only allowed to make one takeaway purchase per day via the banned drinker register.

Alcohol bans in central Australia were first implemented in 2007 during the federal government’s Northern Territory’s Emergency Response, also known as the NT Intervention, to deal with increasing lawlessness and crime in Indigenous townships and communities, which were affecting women and children. Restrictions were continued in 2012 under Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Stronger Future legislation (pdf), which expired in July 2022.

Prior to the expiration, the NT government decided in May 2022 to amend the Liquor Act 2019 and Associations Act 2003 to allow for the sale of alcohol in the Indigenous regions.

Northern Territory Senator Jacinda Price has criticised the NT and federal governments on the decision to lift the restrictions and said that both governments were warned by Indigenous community groups that this would simply create more issues in these communities.

Price shared a letter on Facebook from nine indigenous advocacy groups—including the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Yilli Housing, Danila Dilba Health Service, the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjarra Yankunytjatjarra Womens Council, and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation—to the federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney in June 2022, which outlined the Indigenous communities’ concern that the legislative changes by the NT government were wrong, and pleading for the federal government to extend the Stronger Futures for two years.

“We are now in a situation where the NTG (Northern Territory Government) has suddenly abandoned its generally admirable record on addressing the very high rates of alcohol consumption and severe related harm,” the letter said.

“We believe that the entire process is a reversal of what should occur.”

The groups also noted that they did not believe that the alcohol restrictions were racist or discriminatory and that if restrictions were lifted, it would lead to a spike in alcohol-related injuries and offending.

“Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Darwin, in particular, are currently experiencing a seemingly unrelenting spate of property-related offending mainly by youths,” they said. “There is no doubt that many of the offenders are from families where adults have alcohol problems. To permit more access to alcohol will undoubtedly add fuel to fire,” they said.

Alcohol Bans Crucial for Alice Springs But Education a Key Solution

Meanwhile, indigenous activist Noel Pearson has told The Australian on Wednesday that while alcohol restrictions to “stabilising the family (and) to stabilising the community” it was education that was vital to helping solve the issue.

“What’s happening there is the product of previous failures … schooling failure is at the heart of it,” he said.

Pearson also said he believed that if the Indigenous Voice referendum was successful next year it would make clear “demands” of education providers to improve schooling and address youth crime.

“Ultimately, the voice will ­demand better results out of school education,” he said. “At the moment, demands are not heard. Governments are just rolling out rounds of new policy … and then three years later say ‘oh that didn’t work.’ It’s Groundhog Day.”